What does an animal assisted therapist do?

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What is an Animal Assisted Therapist?

An animal assisted therapist incorporates animals into therapeutic interventions to help individuals improve their emotional, social, cognitive, or physical well-being. Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is a goal-oriented intervention where animals, typically trained therapy animals such as dogs, cats, horses, or dolphins, are used as part of the therapeutic process. The therapist works alongside the animal to facilitate positive outcomes in the client's treatment.

Animal assisted therapists collaborate with clients, taking into consideration their specific needs and goals, and design therapy sessions that involve interactions with the therapy animal. The therapist may use activities such as grooming, walking, playing, or structured exercises to engage the client with the animal. These interactions can help foster a sense of comfort, trust, and connection, which can enhance the therapeutic process. Animal-assisted therapists are skilled at observing and assessing the client's responses to the animal, and they utilize the unique bond between humans and animals to support the client's progress and growth.

Animal assisted therapy can be beneficial in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, and community organizations. The therapist may work with clients of all ages, from children to older adults, and they can address a wide range of conditions or concerns, such as anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders, PTSD, and physical disabilities. The presence of the therapy animal can help reduce stress, increase motivation, improve social skills, enhance emotional regulation, and provide a source of comfort and companionship.

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What does an Animal Assisted Therapist do?

An animal assisted therapist working with a therapy dog and a child within a hospital setting.

Animal assisted therapists have a significant responsibility in using the presence of animals to facilitate therapeutic outcomes for their clients. They combine their expertise in therapy techniques with the unique benefits of the human-animal bond to promote healing, growth, and well-being.

Duties and Responsibilities
Here are some common responsibilities of an animal assisted therapist:

  • Assessing clients: Animal assisted therapists are responsible for conducting initial assessments of clients to gather information about their needs, goals, and challenges. This involves understanding the client's physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning and identifying how animal assisted therapy can be beneficial for them.
  • Developing treatment plans: Based on the assessment, animal assisted therapists create individualized treatment plans that incorporate animal assisted interventions. They establish goals and objectives that align with the client's needs and determine appropriate activities and techniques to be used during therapy sessions.
  • Conducting therapy sessions: Animal assisted therapists lead therapy sessions that involve interactions between the client and the therapy animal. They facilitate activities and exercises that promote emotional, social, cognitive, or physical growth and well-being. The therapist observes and assesses the client's responses to the animal, provides guidance and support, and adjusts the therapy approach as needed.
  • Ensuring safety and welfare: Animal assisted therapists are responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of both the client and the therapy animal. They assess the suitability of the animal for therapy work, monitor the animal's behavior and welfare during sessions, and implement appropriate precautions and interventions to maintain a safe and positive therapeutic environment.
  • Collaborating with other professionals: Animal assisted therapists often work as part of a multidisciplinary team. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, or teachers, to ensure integrated care and address the holistic needs of the client. They may participate in case conferences, share progress reports, and collaborate on treatment strategies.
  • Documentation and evaluation: Animal assisted therapists maintain thorough documentation of client assessments, treatment plans, progress notes, and any other relevant records. They regularly evaluate and review the client's progress and adjust the treatment plan accordingly. They may also conduct outcome evaluations to measure the effectiveness of the animal assisted therapy interventions.
  • Continuing education and professional development: Animal assisted therapists stay updated on the latest research, best practices, and ethical guidelines in animal assisted therapy. They participate in continuing education programs, attend conferences, and engage in professional development activities to enhance their knowledge and skills in the field.

Types of Animal Assisted Therapists
Here are some common types of animal assisted therapists:

  • Animal Assisted Therapist: These therapists provide animal assisted therapy interventions to individuals or groups, utilizing the presence of animals to facilitate therapeutic outcomes. They work in various settings, such as hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, or private practices, and address a wide range of conditions, including mental health disorders, physical disabilities, or developmental challenges.
  • Equine Assisted Therapist: Equine assisted therapists incorporate horses into their therapeutic interventions. They utilize interactions with horses, such as grooming, riding, or ground-based activities, to promote emotional growth, self-awareness, and personal development. Equine assisted therapy is often beneficial for individuals with trauma, anxiety, or behavioral issues.
  • Canine Assisted Therapist: Canine assisted therapists work with therapy dogs to provide support and interventions. These therapists may focus on areas such as animal assisted play therapy, where the dog's presence and interactions help facilitate emotional expression and healing. Canine assisted therapy is commonly used in working with children, individuals with autism, or those experiencing emotional difficulties.
  • Dolphin Assisted Therapist: Dolphin assisted therapy involves interactions with dolphins in a controlled environment, such as a marine park or a specialized facility. These therapists use the presence of dolphins to enhance therapy sessions and address physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges. Dolphin assisted therapy is often utilized for individuals with disabilities or special needs.
  • Feline Assisted Therapist: Feline assisted therapists incorporate cats or other feline companions into their therapy sessions. Cats can provide comfort, emotional support, and a calming presence. These therapists may work with individuals dealing with anxiety, stress, or grief, and use the unique characteristics of cats to create a therapeutic environment.

Are you suited to be an animal assisted therapist?

Animal assisted therapists have distinct personalities. They tend to be social individuals, which means they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly. They excel at socializing, helping others, and teaching. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.

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What is the workplace of an Animal Assisted Therapist like?

The workplace of an animal assisted therapist can vary depending on the specific setting in which they practice. Animal assisted therapists may work in a variety of environments, such as hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, schools, nursing homes, or private practices. They can also be employed by nonprofit organizations or animal-assisted therapy programs.

In these settings, the therapist typically has an office or therapy room where they conduct sessions with clients. The space may be equipped with comfortable seating, therapeutic materials, and tools specific to the type of animal involved in the therapy, such as grooming tools or sensory items. The environment is designed to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for both the client and the therapy animal.

Animal assisted therapists may also travel to different locations to provide therapy sessions. For example, they might visit hospitals or long-term care facilities to work with patients or residents there. They may bring the therapy animal with them or coordinate with local animal-assisted therapy organizations to ensure a suitable animal is available.

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Animal Assisted Therapists are also known as:
Animal-Assisted Therapist